A bridegroom is called away from his engagement party on the French Rivera to return to his ancestral castle in Scotland. A few weeks later, he breaks off his engagement with a letter, but his bride-to-be isn’t the sort of girl to give up without a fight…
Bizarre oddity which somewhat defies categorisation but could best loosely be described as ‘gothic horror.’ Our clean-cut lead is Richard Carlson, a man fondly remembered for a string of science-fiction pictures from the early 1950s: ‘It Came From Outer Space’ (1953), ‘The Magnetic Monster’ (1953), ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (1954) and the far more fact-based ‘Riders to the Stars’ (1954), which he also directed. Support comes from Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery, and the luminous Hilary Brooke, who is completely wasted in an insignificant supporting role. Probably the most notable member of the cast is Michael Pate, who plays creepy manservant Williams. His career including an excellent turn as the undead gunslinger in ‘Curse of the Undead’ (1959) and featured roles in Danny Kaye’s ‘The Court Jester’ (1955) and opposite Marlon Brando, James Mason and John Gielgud in ‘Julius Caesar’ (1953)!
But the main name to conjure with here is director William Cameron Menzies. To put it simply, he invented Production Design as a role in filmmaking, and received the first ever Academy Award for Art Direction. His film career lasted over 40 years until his death in 1957. As a director he was far less successful, however, with commentators criticising films like ‘H G Wells’ Things to Come’ (1936) as stilted and dry, and although the colourful ‘Invaders From Mars’ (1953) looks amazing, it certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense!
So how does ‘The Maze’ (1953) hold up today? Well, as would be expected, it looks great. The castle interiors are rendered in a striking contrast of light and shadow, and doorways are a dozen feet high, dwarfing some members of the cast. This provides plenty of atmosphere, which Menzies exploits to the full. As the film was originally shot in 3-D, viewing it ‘flat’ probably robs it of some of the director’s more interesting shot compositions, and he did resist the temptation to simply fling things at the audience with the exception of a rather phoney looking bat. Obvious budgetary constraints mean we don’t see a lot of the exterior of the crumbling old pile though, and the maze itself features only fairly briefly, and looks like a very small stage set.
Unfortunately, where the film really falls down is the script. It’s very much a ‘one idea’ story and, although it’s certainly original, it’s also ridiculous and lacks credibility. Proceedings are relentlessly talky and there is almost no action until the final ten minutes.
The cast do try their damnedest though, especially Hurst as the puzzled heroine and Emery as her worried aunt. They get a lot of screen time and it’s good to see two strong women in a film of this vintage. Carlson fares less well, however, being given almost nothing to work with at all. He gets to be charming in the light, romantic opening and then just brood for the rest of the film with some rather unconvincing grey streaks in his hair.
This is a B-movie curiosity now, one of those films that it’s most remarkable for the fact that it actually got made more than anything else. There’s little excitement, tension or plot development, but it’s worth sticking around for the climactic scenes.
Although they are likely to bring hoots of derision and laughter from a modern audience.